Some 23,000 policemen, five hawk-eyed drones, an overnight curfew. Lord Jagannath’s rath yatra in Ahmedabad -- the second grandest after Puri in Odisha -- was taken out in its 144th year under the shadow of COVID-19 sans the usual fanfare, sans the traditional fervor.
The yatra, carrying the three chariots of Lord Jagannath, brother Balram and sister Subhadra and accompanied by a vehicle of the seer of the historic Jagannath Temple in the city’s Jamalpur area, was wrapped up in four hours as against the usual over 12 hours.
Hours after Union Home Minister Amit Shah performed his decades-old ritual of a ‘mangla aarti’ (auspicious ritual to pay obeisance to the Lord) at 4 a.m. at the temple, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani performed the ‘Pahind Vidhi’ of cleaning the way for the chariots using a golden broom. This is the fifth year in a row that Rupani performed the ritual.
The rath yatra started at 7 a.m. and returned at 11 a.m. It is taken out every year on the auspicious day of Ashadhi Bij, the second day of Ashadh month, according to the Hindu calendar.
Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and Gujarat’s Minister of State for Home, Pradeepsinh Jadeja were also present at the Lord Jagannath temple in Jamalpur. Jadeja accompanied the yatra through its entire 19-km route.
The Chief Minister said the Rath yatra was planned this year in keeping with the Covid-19 safety protocol. Last year, the yatra was cancelled and taken out only within the precincts of the Jagannath Temple.
Not taking any chances, the State Government had also done away with the ‘prasad’ distribution after the yatra, while the 60 ‘khalasis’ who pulled the raths had all first undergone RT-PCR tests to ensure they were not infected.
Every year, lakhs of people gathered and walked along the route on ‘Ashadhi Beej’ to catch a glimpse of the decorated elephants and tableaux moving around in some 100 trucks. This time, people were seen peeping from their windows and balconies as the procession passed.